'Cops' a Police Drama, Begins at Gunston Art Center Jan.4

Cops, the intense 1976 police drama, begins a month-long run at Theater Two in Arlington's Gunston Art Center on January 4; and embodies the American Century Theater's core mission of presenting important 20th Century plays. The ground-breaking thriller by Terry Curtis Fox had a major impact on American culture and entertainment, and is sure to have an impact on audiences as well.

Through most of the Seventies, police dramas on television and movies celebrated the undeniable heroism of urban law enforcement by glamorizing it in unrealistic shows like "Charlie's Angels" and "Starsky and Hutch." Then Terry Curtis Fox wrote Cops for Chicago's daring Organic Theater, and the sensational play ripped away the glamour for all time. The play's complex portrayal of police as complex and conflicted participants in a sometimes crude and brutal environment led directly to "Hill Street Blues," the legendary television show that paved the way for "NYPD Blue," "The Wire" and "The Shield." "Cops" also helped launch the careers of Dennis Franz, later the star of "NYPD Blue," and David Mamet favorite Joe Montegna. And today nobody thinks of urban law enforcement as "glamorous."

The play realistically depicts a brief, violent and disturbing encounter between a bungling criminal and three police officers in a Chicago diner. Director Stephen Jarrett, whose previous work with TACT included Luv, believes the close proximity of the Theater Two audience will create exactly the effect that the playwright intended.

Jarrett's accomplished cast is a mixture of TACT audience favorites and impressive newcomers. Shane Wallis, whose powerful presence contributed to such TACT productions as Machinal, Moby Dick Rehearsed and Mister Roberts, and John Bailey, whose quirky characters have been highlights of such shows as Hollywood Pinafore, The Boys in the Band and The Seven Year Itch, join with Regan Wilson, Honora Talbott, Robert Heckart, Bill Gordon, Brian Razzino and Bruce Follmer, last with TACT in its very first production, Twelve Angry Men. Not all of them are left standing by the end of the play.

Producer Rhonda Hill and Stage Manager Alecia Oliver have entrusted the show's set design to Trena Weiss-Null, with lighting by AnnMarie Castrigno. Karen Curie is handling the props, including several guns, and the sound design is by technical director Michael Null. Rip Claassen is the costume designer.

Cops opens January 4, and runs through January 26. The American Century Theater performs at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center (2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, Virginia). Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8PM, with Saturday or Sunday matinees at 2:30PM. More information is available at www.americancentury.org.

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